The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
The Fender Stratocaster
It is no secret that the Fender Stratocaster is one of the most popular guitars in the world. It has a legacy going back decades and has been used by legendary guitar players to get the sounds they need it every imaginable style of music. Even if you know very little about guitars you’ve probably seen a Strat before, and you’ve definitely heard one.
Fender Stratocasters are high-end, American-made instruments, and when you are an advanced guitar player someday you may just get to own one. Or, maybe you’ll own a few of them. As a beginner, unless you are prepared to drop a ridiculous amount of cash on your first guitar rig, these guitars are out of your price range.
Fender to the rescue! Through their budget Squier by Fender lineup and their Made-in-Mexico Player Series Fender brings us real Stratocasters that are not only affordable but sound and look almost as good as the original.
When it comes to the best electric guitars for beginners, Squier by Fender, along with Epiphone, are the brands I always recommend. In this article, you’ll learn about the different models in the Squier and Fender Player Series lineup and get some advice on choosing the right Strat for you. Be sure to check out the manufacturer's website for the most up-to-date info on their gear.
Squier by Fender Starter Packs
For the average beginner, I think a Squier by Fender starter pack is a smart way to get into the guitar for not a lot of cash. The Squier Stratocaster has everything you need and makes the process of putting together your first guitar setup simple and affordable.
Squier by Fender offers a few different starter kits for beginning electric guitar players. You can find an array of different guitars (both Stratocasters and Telecasters) and even bass setups. Remember, Squier is owned by Fender and makes budget versions of classic Fender instruments. You’ll see a lot of Strat copies out there, especially in the beginner guitar market. None of the guitars in this article are “copies”. Squier makes real Strats.
The most basic Squier starter kit is very affordable and features a quality guitar and amp that will keep a newbie busy for a while. You get a Squier Affinity Stratocaster with three single-coil pickups (SSS) for all of those legendary Strat sounds. Single coils have a thinner sound than humbuckers, and this is the tone the Strat made famous.
This classic Strat design is great for beginners who are into blues, country, and rock. For those newbie guitarists who are into heavier rock or metal, I suggest choosing a pack with an HSS Strat. This will give you a guitar with a humbucker in addition to two single-coil pickups. You’ll get some thicker, heavier sounds, and a wider tonal palette to experiment with.
The amp that comes with the kit is a Fender Frontman 15G. You also get other good stuff like a cable, strap, and picks.
Squier Affinity Stratocaster
The Squier Affinity Strat is a notch better than the model you’d get with the Squier starter pack. It has an alder body with a maple neck. Of course, it has those three single-coil pickups as well, with all the control you’d expect to find on a Fender Strat. Point is, this thing is a real Stratocaster, and for beginners into rock, country, and blues the Squier Standard Strat is a solid choice.
Once again, you may want to consider an HSS model if you’d like the addition of a hotter-sounding humbucking pickup.
However, there are a few negatives when compared to choosing a starter kit. The first is cost. You will generally spend a little more when you get each piece of gear individually.
Secondly, you’re going to need an amp. There are some great beginner’s guitar amps around $100 that would complement the Squire Standard Strat and make for an outstanding starter rig.
Fender Player Stratocaster
I recommend the Fender Player Stratocaster for serious beginners with a few bucks in their pockets, those who know they want to start out on a quality guitar from the beginning. You won’t have to upgrade your instrument for a long while, if ever. The Player Stratocaster is one of the top electric guitars for the money period.
There many different models made in Mexico, starting with the basic SSS version. This is the base model with three single-coil pickups, and it is the design most people think of when it comes to the Stratocaster.
The SSS Player Strat features an Alder body with a maple neck and choice of either a Pau Ferro or Maple fingerboard. The pickups are a trio of Fender single-coils with the basic 1 volume, 2 tone Strat layout, and 5-way switch. The bridge is a 2-point tremolo, an upgrade from the vintage 6-screw that came on the old Standards.
It’s a very basic design that has served Fender well for more than half a century, and in the Player Strat, it comes together well to present an affordable, high-quality instrument. However, there are other Player Series Stratocasters in the Fender lineup worth checking out.
For their Player Series of guitars and basses, Fender takes some of their most legendary instruments and finds a way to make them more affordable. The Player Series is a reimagining of the popular Standard Series.
Like the Standards, one of the ways Fender cuts costs with the Player Series is to outsource construction to their facility in Mexico. This is why Fender Standard instruments were referred to as Made-in-Mexico or MIM Stratocasters. The Player Series seems to be picking up right where they left off.
These are among the best guitars for intermediate players, and some gigging musicians even prefer to use a MIM Strat for work and leave their American Stratocaster at home. While the Player Strat is certainly more expensive than a Squier, it still comes in at a fraction of the cost of an American Strat.
The Fender Player Series Stratocaster
Squier Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe Strats
The Squier Vintage Modified Strat and Classic Vibe Stratocasters are great guitars for beginners. They have become known as some of the best budget guitars on the market, and even veteran players have good things to say about the Squier Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe Series Series.
There were several Strat models in the Squier VM Series, and each was based on a hot-rodded Strat from days gone by. Choose between the basic Vintage Modified (SSS or HSS), Vintage Modified ‘70s, Vintage Modified Surf Strat, or the eclectic Squier ’51.
The VM lineup has been discontinued, but many of the models were absorbed or updated for inclusion in the Classic Vibe Series.
The Classic Vibe Series continues on, based on Fender instruments from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and '70s. These guitars do their best to replicate all of the things players loved about the Strats of yesterday. These Stratocasters put Fender on the map!
My opinion: These are the best Stratocasters for the money you are going to find and some of the best electric guitars under $500 on the market. This also makes them perfect for serious beginners who want something a little better than the typical starter guitar.
Hear the Vintage Modified '70s Strat
Fender Player Stratocaster HSS
The Player Strat is also available with a humbucker and a pair of single-coil pickups. The single coils let you nail those blues sounds and bassy cleans, while you can kick in the humbucker for hard rock riffs and a thicker tone.
While the number of available sounds isn’t as many as with the SSS pickup configuration, the HSS Strat does allow you to reach out to heavier styles of music.
In my opinion, this is the best of both worlds when it comes to the Stratocaster. In fact, one of my main guitars these days is a Fender MIM Stratocaster HSS. I have traditional Strats with three single coils, and I have other guitars with humbuckers designed for heavier music, but I always seem to reach for my Standard Strat. I suppose it is the flexibility that I like, to be able to go from Metallica to SRV with the flip of a switch and the turn of a knob.
There is also a Floyd-equipped HSS model that features a Humbucker and three single-coils. This is a great choice if you need a Stratocaster for metal.
Fender Player Stratocaster HSH
Fender also has an HSH Player Series Strat. It features a pair of Fender Player Series Humbuckers, with a Fender Single Coil sandwiched in between. This means you get the benefits of both a humbucker and single-coil in the same pickup.
Fender has had various guitars with HH and HSH pickup configurations in their lineup through the years. Some players love the Strat design but prefer humbuckers in both the bridge and neck position. If that’s you, it’s tough to beat this version of the Player Stratocaster.
Check out the Player Stratocaster HSH
Choose Your Strat
There are some great reasons to play a Stratocaster, and you’ve read about a bunch of awesome Squier and Fender Player Series Stratocasters in this article. How do you choose the right one for you? I think it simply comes down to your budget, what kind of music you intend to play and which tones are most important to you.
The Squier models are affordable for beginners and offer the same designs seen in high-end Strats. For most beginners, my advice is to go with a starter pack. It takes away the guesswork that comes with choosing everything you need to start playing guitar. They are also great values, something that’s important if you aren’t sure you are going to stick with the instrument.
The basic SSS Strat is great for blues, country, and rock, Each notch of the pickup selector switch gives you a distinct sound, from glassy, open bass tones to chickin’ pickin’ sounds reminiscent of country music, to Hendrix-ish rock tones. If you want a basic, flexible guitar, the SSS model may be the way to go.
For guitarists into heavier rock and metal, the single-coil in the bridge position may not cut it. You need a humbucker for a thicker sound, and while a Strat with humbuckers won’t sound like a Les Paul is will allow a much heavier tone compared to the SSS model.
You will also see some budget Stratocasters equipped with Floyd Rose-type bridges. Is this a good choice for a beginner? My advice is always to think long and hard before making your decision. Like a hot-rodded muscle car, a guitar with a Floyd needs regular maintenance and work to keep it in tip-top shape. If you don’t think you’ll use a Floyd Rose enough to warrant the extra attention you’re probably better off with a basic bridge.
I hope you found this post helpful. Good luck with choosing your first Stratocaster!
Your Opinion: Which Stratocaster is best for beginners?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Guitar Gopher (author) on August 21, 2020:
@Steve - Fenders are, generally, better than Squiers for playability. Squier guitars are made for beginners and players on a budget. They are excellent for that purpose, but if you aren't concerned about price, you may wish to check out the Fender Player Series Strat. It's less expensive than the American version, but still a high-quality guitar and a big step up from a Squier.
If you stick with guitar, you'll want to upgrade your Squier in a year so. If you go with a Player Strat, you probably won't feel the need to upgrade for a long time.
My 2 cents. Good luck!
Steve Collins on August 21, 2020:
Still confused, I’m not worried about money. I just want to make a good decision. Basically which has the best learn and play ablility.